I have often mentioned on this blog that part of the reason we know so little about male victims of sexual violence is because we do not talk to men about their experiences. This is particularly true when it comes to female-perpetrated abuse. The common view is that women cannot rape men, or at least that whatever they can commit is minimal and harmless. This view is bolstered by the feminist claim that sexual violence is an act of oppression specifically committed by men against women.
Those narratives intertwine, creating an unwillingness for society, law enforcement, support agencies, and researchers to acknowledge male victims or female rapists. But what happens when one actually asks men about their experiences?
As seen in the recent CDC studies on intimate partner violence, it appears that one will discover that far more men are victims of sexual violence than initially assumed, and that the majority of the abusers are female. I have written before about the CDC research, specifically how the CDC separated female-perpetrated sexual violence from rape, creating the category “made to penetrate” (i.e., the male is forced to insert his penis into a vagina or anus), and then labeling this as sexual assault.
Many people took issue with this, myself included, not because the CDC acknowledged this particular type of violence, but because their categorization made it appear as if men were rarely raped, when the results actually suggested the opposite. There were further questions regarding the methodology and how the researchers presented the results, however, the CDC study was the first to examine the concept of “made to penetrate” to such a degree.
Even with the concerns, the results showed far more men are raped by women than anyone assumed. What was needed was further independent research on the same topic. How many male victims are forced to penetrate their rapists? What is the sex of the rapist? What impact does this particular form of rape have on the victims? What assistance, if any, do victims seek? How are they treated?
We now have another report asking those questions. Lancaster University, in conjunction with Survivors Manchester, conducted as small study to determine how often men are “forced to penetrate.” (I think it is worth noting the difference in the language of “forced” compared to “made”. While they both mean the same thing, the former implies violence and unwanted interaction, while the latter implies merely being compelled. I think the difference in language demonstrates how seriously one report takes the issue compared to the other.)
The Lancaster report included 200 men from across the United Kingdom, resulting in a usable dataset involving 154 participants. That is a small sample size, and normally one should take that into account, however, the results are very similar to those from the CDC, which involved over 1,000 men, so I am less inclined write off the Lancaster results.
It should be noted, however, that the Lancaster report focused on the most recent experience, and participants could skip or refuse to answer any question they did not want or were unable to answer. The researchers state that this was to “minimise potential distress felt by those recounting possibly traumatic experiences.” It is unclear how much this may have affected the results.
Some key findings from the report were that the average participant was aged 38, with most of them being between 26 to 35. The majority of the men (87%) identified as straight, 11% as bisexual or bicurious, and 2% (apparently only one person) as gay.
When it came to the rapes, the person’s average age at the time was 27, with most being between 16 to 25:
Participants were asked a series of questions in relation to their most recent forced-to-penetrate experience. Based on 153 responses, the average age of participants during their most recent experience was 27 years, with a range of between 2 and 61 years.
The majority (67 (43.8%)) of respondents were aged 16-25 when their most recent experience occurred.
16 (10.5%) of the participants reported that they were between 2 and 15 years old.
13 (8.5%) of the respondents were over 45 years old when their most recent experience took place.
These numbers are similar to what one finds in the CDC study and other studies about male victimization. It appears that teens tend to be the targets for the majority of sexual violence, followed by the 20 to 35 range and then the 10 to 18 range. This is also consistent with female victimization. I am not sure why most victims would be young adults, but it is something worth noting.
When it came to the type of penetration the men experienced — vaginal, anal, or oral — the majority reported that it was vaginal. According to the report:
62% – vaginal
29% – anal
9% – oral
Please note that this does not separate the acts by the sex of the abuser, meaning, the anal and oral penetration may include female abusers as well. What this demonstrates, however, is that women commit far more sexual violence against men than people typically assume.
The report also found that of the 154 participants:
One participant disclosed that he was forced to only anally penetrate a woman.
Eight disclosed being forced to engage in only oral penetration.
For all the other men, compelled vaginal penetration was involved, either solely, or alongside one of the other forms of penetration
Again, this counters the common view that women do not rape men. It appears that when it comes to this particular form of sexual violence, women commit the majority of it. When considering the results from the CDC study showing that forced penetration accounts for the majority of sexual violence against males, it becomes very difficult to frame female-on-male rape as an outlier or rarity.
When it comes to how women commit these attacks, the report found that most (22.2%) used threats of spreading lies, blackmail, or verbal coercion. Not mentioned in this report, but in a follow-up analysis of the findings, is that some women threatened to lie about the men abusing or raping them to get the men to comply. I will address that further when I get into the analysis, however, I want people to consider that particular issue because it is something unique to female perpetrators. They can always claim that their male victims abused them, regardless of the victim’s age, and have a reasonable chance of being believed.
The second method was the use of force (14.4%). I will repeat that: the second most common method women used to rape men was physical violence. As specified in the report, this included:
Using force, for example holding you down with their body weight, pinning your arms, restraining you, or having a weapon
This defies the common assumption that women cannot physically harm men. It shows that the opposite is true, that if verbal coercion does not work, women will resort to physical violence to overpower male victims. This affords them a particular level of power compared to male abusers as this assumption that men can fend off women would be something the male victim would assume as well. His inability to defend himself against someone he is “supposed” to be able to easily overtake could make the assault more traumatic, not only because he could not fend her off, but also because of the implicit attack on his male identity.
This would be the point where feminists would come in and claim “toxic masculinity” is to blame, however, that is not really what is occurring here. This is not an issue of inflated male ego. This is the result of a social norm and biological fact being turned against the victim. There is really no way to prevent this potential emotional conflict. It is no different than how an adult would feel being physically beaten or intellectually outsmarted by a younger person who they would reasonably assume they could handle.
Even if one stripped away all concepts about masculinity, the fact would remain that you have this smaller person physically overpowering you, and the impact that would have would be devastating. The social attitudes about masculinity only exacerbate this.
Moving on, the report found that the majority of men were assaulted by women they knew, either friends or acquaintances, girlfriends, wives, or exes. The report notes that there is probably some overlap in the categories, specifically acquaintances and the “other”, which includes teachers, employers, etc. However, the results are consistent with other studies showing that most people know their abusers.
The report also asked whether men experienced additional sexual violence outside of the most recent experience. Of the 108 men who answered the question, 51.8% reported they did not experience additional forced penetration, while 48.2% said they did experience one or more instances of this. In other words, almost half the men were repeatedly raped by women.
When asked about other types of sexual violence, 67.6% stated they had additional sexual abuse at the hands of women, with most experiencing non-consensual touching of their genitals, followed by “other”, then attempted forced penetration, and finally non-consensual oral or anal penetration with fingers or objects. This again shows that women are far more likely to commit sexual violence against men than people assume, with most of it being a clear violation of that man.
Where the results get truly interesting is how the men rated their experiences. While most men stated they did not experience any physical injuries as a result of the rapes, their emotional injuries were varied. The report gave them a range of 1 to 10, from no negative impact to sever negative impact respectively.
On average, men rated the experience at a 6, which is fairly negative. Yet, it is the disparity in the breakdown that is most compelling. Most men (20.9%) rated the experience as a 10, i.e. as a severe negative emotional impact. This defies the common assumption that women’s violence against men has no impact. It would appear that most men do not like being raped by women.
However, this was followed by 15.6% rating the experience a 3, i.e. that it had limited negative impact. These two results seem in total conflict. How could so many men equally consider it the worst thing ever yet not so bad?
I suspect this has a lot to do with how men generally react to trauma. Men are more likely than women to report less negative impact even when experiencing obviously traumatic situations, such a death in the family or sever injury or life-threatening experience. Part of this appears to be biological, specifically that males in general feel less traumatized by these events. The other part, however, appears to be social and cultural, specifically that men and boys are taught to compartmentalize their trauma, ignore it, or deny it, and this would affect their willingness to admit they were negatively impacted.
Again, the follow-up analysis gets into this, showing that even men who were bothered enough by their experiences to seek professional counseling spoke of their experiences in a kind of casual manner, which implies they actually were harmed (hence the support seeking) but are unwilling to admit it.
One can also see in the report that severity index jumps, with men bouncing between higher and lower levels of impact: the highest being 10 then 3 then 8 then 5 then 6 then 9 then 7 then 4 then 1 and finally 2. It would appear that men are probably negatively impacted by being forced to penetrate, but may be less inclined to admit that it traumatized them, but not by that much. On average, it appears to have a moderate negative impact that men will acknowledge.
The jumping begins to make sense, however, when one looks at how men frame their experiences. The report offered the following labels: sex, non-consensual sex, forced sex, rape, other, and no label. As one can see, three of those are the same thing (non-consensual sex, forced sex, and rape), but this separation factors in that many men do not consider what happened to them “rape”.
I think it is very important to include this kind of the categorization so that we can see how they actually view it. This will give us a better understanding of not only the impact of the assault, but also how social framing of this issue affects how men see what happened to them.
Of the 111 men who answered the question about how they label what happened to them, 29.7% labeled it “rape”. However, 19.8% labeled it “other”, and 16.2% chose “no label”. The report suggests that this may result from the topic receiving little attention or discussion, which may result in men lacking the “language” to describe their experiences.
I think there is another element to that, which is again mentioned in the follow up analysis: how society, specifically feminists, have framed sexual violence. Several of the men mentioned this aspect, that sexual violence is something perceived to be a thing only men do to only women, and that support services and law enforcement share that view.
This is one of the reasons I have talked about this particular issue, much to feminists’ irritation. If we consistently talk about sexual violence against women, never mentioning males victims or only adding them in as an afterthought, it gives the impression to society in general and male victims specifically that what happened to them is not rape, is not sexual violence, and may not even be wrong.
As much as feminists detest someone saying “what about teh menz”, failing to do so leads to male victims regarding their experiences as something other than rape. They know it is not consensual sex. The report found that only 2 out of 111 men called what happened to them “sex”. Most considered it some kind of violation — rape, forced sex, and non-consensual sex — but the remaining men did not know what to call it.
This is the result of framing sexual violence as a women’s issue. All of the language that these men would be familiar with tells them that, contrary to what they actually feel, what happened to them does not count as sexual violence, and that affects whether they will seek help.
When it came to getting support, most men (74.5%) never sought support. In the follow-up analysis, the most common reason was that the men either assumed they would not be believed, that the existing services would not help them or were not for them because they were men, or that they were denied assistance.
When asked whether they reported it to the police, only 2 out of the 115 men who answered the question said they filed a report, and neither case made it to court. The report makes note of just how extreme that is. It notes that at least 15% of female victims report their rapes to police. In other words, women are 9 times more likely to report their abuse than men.
So when one sees feminists claiming that police reports are an accurate estimate of the rate of male victimization, this report suggests otherwise. Male victims are far less likely to tell anyone about their experiences. This includes friends and family. Of the 117 men who answered whether they told friends and family, only 22 (18.8%) said they did. The remaining 81.2% did not.
So again, when one sees feminists arguing that support service numbers or even reports like this are an accurate measure of how frequently men are victimized, that appears to be untrue. It seems like men are so unlikely to tell anyone what happened to them that it is possible, and indeed likely, that even research like this report underestimates the rate of male victimization.
This report demonstrates the importance of not only talking about male victimization, but specifically focusing on female-perpetrated sexual violence. Society’s unwillingness to talk about female rapists and acknowledge the harm they do results in numerous men suffering in silence. We simply have no idea how often this is happening because the message we send to men and boys is to keep their mouths shut and enjoy it.
That is further complicated by feminists framing sexual violence as something only men do to only women, resulting in law enforcement and support services failing to even consider reaching out to male victims. It also results in male victims themselves reframing what happened to them as something other than sexual violence, let alone rape.
Acknowledging these results does not silence female victims, but it does reshape the narrative… for the better.
It is better to admit that there are women who prey on men and boys and use social and cultural attitudes to exploit their victims than to pretend sexual violence is an act of male oppression against women. It is better to acknowledge that female rapists bank on social assumptions about their ability to physically force their victims into sex. It is better to acknowledge that women will make false accusations of rape as method of coercion so they can rape men.
This is not the narrative feminists want to hear, and it is not a topic society wants to address, however, there are far too many men and boys suffering in silence to justify pretending like this is not a real issue.